The mid-size sedan segment is the most highly competitive segment in the auto industry.

Earlier this year Mazda rolled out its third generation Mazda6, putting the world on notice that it is among the elite in a very crowded field.

Make no mistake; there are several outstanding models in the mid-size sedan segment.

The all-new Mazda6 is definitely among them.

From a performance standpoint, the five-passenger, front-wheel drive 2014 Mazda6 is powered by Mazdaís new 2.5-liter SKYACTIV-G I-4 engine that produces 184 horsepower and 185 lbs.-ft. torque. Mated to either a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission and requiring regular unleaded gasoline, it has an EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg city, 37 mpg highway.

This fall, Mazda6 buyers will also have the option of a 2.2-liter SYKACTIVE-D clean diesel engine.

With a base price starting at $20,880, the 2014 Mazda6 is available in three trim levels ó Sport, Touring and Grand Touring.

Iím impressed with this vehicle on so many levels, primarily with its affordability. Mazda has managed to pack a lot of features and technology ó as well as a superb handling vehicle ó for a very affordable price.

Not only is it one of the best vehicles in the segment, it is also one of the most affordable.

I canít even begin to scratch the surface of all the Mazda6ís technological features in the limited amount of space this column provides.

But I have to mention the ground-breaking i-ELOOP, the worldís first capacitor-based brake energy regeneration system that powers all of the vehicles electrical system. It is one of the many fuel-saving technologies being used on the Mazda6. This one recovers the vehicleís kinetic energy during braking to generate the energy required to power the electrical systems.

And when it comes to amenities, technology is certainly at the forefront, with features such as Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, iPod audio playback, and available 11-speaker Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound System with AudioPilot, and SMS message system that reads incoming text messages and allows you to respond verbally using speech recognition software.

Oh, and the premium audio system (that includes HD Radio technology) also includes Pandora for music streaming.

Yes, Iím an audiophile, so Iím a little fixated on the stereo system, but itís by no means the limit of the many amenities and features of the new Mazda6.

Some of the other features include air conditioning with pollen filtration, push-button start, tilt and telescopic steering column, steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, power windows/doors/mirrors, leather interior features, TomTom-based navigation system with Sirius Satellite Radio and rearview camera to name just a few. The list of safety features is equally as long, including available blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart city brake support system.

For those in the market for a mid-size sedan, the 2014 Mazda6 is a must for the test drive list.

Neal White has been covering the automotive industry for more than 20 years and is affiliated with the Texas Auto Writers Association.

The Nuts and Bolts

MODEL:

2014 Mazda Mazda6

5-seat mid-size sedan †

Front-wheel drive

Trim packages:

Sport, Touring, Grand Touring

PRICE RANGE:

$21,000-$33,000

ENGINE:

2.5L I4 (184 hp/185 T)

TRANSMISSION:

6-speed manual

6-speed automatic

EPA: 25/26 mpg city, 37/38 mpg highway (MT/AT)

FUEL: Regular unleaded

STABILITY CONTROL:

Dynamic stability control with traction control system

BRAKES: ABS

LENGTH: 191.5 inches

WHEELBASE: 111.4 in.

WIDTH: 72.4 inches

HEIGHT: 57.1 inches

WEIGHT: 3183-3232 lbs.

TRACK: 62.4/62

(front/rear)

FUEL TANK: 16.4 gallons

TIRES: 17-, or 19-inch

CARGO: 14.8 cubic feet.